Known for its natural material choices as well as for its dedication to sustainable and sincere handcrafted production, Lauren Manoogian is the eponymous brand of the Brooklyn-based designer whose optimistic and forward-thinking perspective on sustainability pushes her to do things in a better way.
Her ready-to-wear knitwear collections are restrained yet sculptural, defined by distinctive, hand-finishing techniques and unconventional construction details. Manoogian has worked with a Lima-based team of makers that are preserving, refining, and pushing forward traditional cottage industry methods, after becoming introduced almost a decade ago. Keep on reading to discover her Spring/Summer 2019 collection.
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Hi Lauren! We last talked in 2014 when you began your jewellery line as a series of wearable studies, but then expanded your creations into a collection of knitwear. How did that happen considering that you come from a background in arts?
I’ve been working professionally as a knitwear designer now for fourteen years. Originally, when working for other companies, the jewellery was a way to keep some type of studio practice going by doing material experiments. The end product and success of the jewellery was very random, but it was another creative outlet and helped me meet a lot of people.
I started travelling to Peru about ten years ago while working for another brand. I wanted to explore working in a new place and I knew sweaters were produced there with the same methods that I used in my own studio practice. Previously, my experience working as a knitwear designer for other large companies in different places was often demoralizing. Most of the time, factories automatically interpreted what I sent them to be more mechanized, efficient, or use a very commercial technique they already knew. I would receive the sample back and it would have completely lost the spirit of the idea, so I had to start designing in a different way other than my own.
I was really starting to lose interest and connection to that part of my work and even though I was young, I began questioning what I was doing. Moving focus towards working in Peru was a breath of fresh air, and the people I met when I originally started working there have been so influential in my life and business – and unbelievably, I still work with all of them today.
Your ready-to-wear knitwear collections are partly developed in Lima (Peru). In recent seasons, your line has evolved to incorporate hand-loomed and hand-knit sweaters, hand-woven blankets and crocheted totes, and a selection of vegetable-tanned leather jewellery and bags, individually handmade by a Peruvian saddle-maker. Can you introduce us to your personal relationship with Peru and the importance of preserving, refining and pushing forward traditional industry methods?
I really enjoy the direct process and working with the mills, factories, and artisans. I find the people we work with to be extremely creative, talented, and open-minded to trying new things while at the same time having a depth of traditional knowledge. Peru is so diverse in nature and landscape which translates to the depth of our process. It’s becoming harder and harder to find people that want to make a living out of producing handmade, tangible objects which is why we try to stay very committed to our production partners in order for them to be able to keep pushing forward.
Your eponymous brand is known for its natural material choices as well as for its dedication to sustainable and sincere handcrafted production. How does the philosophy of your collections resemble you as a designer? How would you describe your vision? 
I didn’t really start out with a clear vision for the brand; I just started by making things. So that is the place I always try to go back to even though the process and scale have changed. I try to keep that intuitive, non-calculated approach but remain very focused both in life and work. I try to get rid of things that are unnecessary. Working very directly with production and the development process is what I have found keeps me interested, engaged, and able to come up with new ideas. Sustainability motivates me to be optimistic and forward-thinking and push to do things in a better way. It’s all very imperfect.
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The chic and minimal style that characterizes your designs has been compared to the one of Phoebe Philo at Céline or Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen of The Row. Who are your icons? And who do you believe are the icons of today?
That’s a difficult question because I think on a fundamental level, I feel uncomfortable with the idea of icons. I think design can be iconic, but I think in our culture there is a disproportionate amount of focus on individuals.
“Probably if left to my own devises, I would just make one big collection every two years”, you told to Need Supply Co. in a previous interview. Do you have the same conception when conceiving a collection these days? What challenges do you face in the process of designing a new one?
I guess time… and there are always things I want to keep improving about the designs, which is often done in the production process, so a lot of times it feels very rushed to just move onto the next thing immediately when I am still deeply invested in working out the previous collection. I think that progression is important to stay connected with as it’s very informative, tangible and always contributes to the next collection in not-so-obvious ways. I guess in a perfect world, you get to finish something and move on to the next, but I accept now that it’s more of an ongoing conversation and process that never stops or is truly finished. It’s a slow evolution of details and styles that make the brand as a whole rather than any one collection.
Where do you derive the inspiration for your oversized silhouettes and consistent neutral colour palette?
A lot of the silhouettes are connected to the specific knitting technique of the garment and how I want to empathize with that and place them on the body. I also always look back to traditional folk clothing, which usually evolves from the limitations and possibilities of the base textile. The colour palette is just what I think honours and highlights the materials I use and makes them look their best. I could dye yarn any imaginable colour but more and more, I just want them to be what they are and not make any more decisions or interventions. I like the neutral palette as it is an extension of the animals and plants palette, which is my consistent baseline. Then I can add an unexpected colour or alter shades when inspired.
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Who is the ‘client’ of Lauren Manoogian? Has this client evolved together with you since the inception of the brand in 2008?
What has always inspired me since the beginning is the broad depth of customers attracted to our work. I don’t think we have one specific ‘client’. I think the person that buys our clothes does so for themselves first and foremost. I do think the clients, varied a range as they may be, have evolved with the brand.
I think the type of clothing we make, people wear primarily for themselves. There are no logos or ‘it items’ – the clothes aren’t overt or flashy. It’s more about providing a tactile experience, as you the wearer is having – it’s about your mood and emotions and not so much about outward signifiers designed for other people to recognize. Which is itself a statement, I guess.
What about the digital world? We live in the social media era.
So much of contemporary life takes place online and is represented through imagery that it can all feel superficial to the extreme. I often struggle with this so I assume our customer does too. But I think that clothing itself is very experiential and there are intangible elements that are reserved exclusively for yourself. I also think there is a need to create your own space within clothing.
I think people who look inward seem to naturally gravitate towards the collection as we notice in the new and interesting professions and paths of our customers. Knitwear, especially, can be kind of abstract when you see it on a hanger or as an object, and it’s very mutable. The person who wears it really transforms and realizes the piece when they put it on – maybe more so than other types of clothing. There is a very symbiotic relationship with the wearer.
“…to be honest, fashion week and all that stuff is just not really me. It’s not really the way that I like to do things. I feel like it’s a totally different group of people in the fashion industry. I don't really think about things that way”, you told us five years ago. It’s been a long time and many things have changed. For your Fall/Winter 2018 collection, you had your first New York Fashion Week presentation. What made you take that step? And how would you describe the experience?
mediums, more products, more things to express, it felt natural to experiment with how we present the collection to our own audience and find new ways to collaborate with people and places that inspire the brand. It also felt like a good moment to step outside our comfort zone. The experience has been challenging but rewarding. It’s been great to bring other people into the process and see what the outcome would be. We have tried to follow our inspiration in terms of format and setting rather than one way of doing things, taking it season by season and observing our own evolution.
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Timeless quietude and modular material experience are your brand’s core sentiments. However, in the Spring/Summer 2019 collection, Lauren Manoogian furthers its focus to express a gentle contrast between semblance of surface and architectural utility. The collaboration with Zachary Armstrong’s vessels in your Spring/Summer 2019 presentation reinforces the handcrafted and modestly feminine values of the collection. What is it that makes his sculptures so unique and somehow so in harmony with your pieces?
That body of work really appealed to me when I saw it for the first time. There is an uncanniness about the pieces since they read as ceramic but are comprised of a completely unique and layered process. The pieces are made of very accessible materials but the handwork and invention that went into that process are what I think makes them very emotional and intriguing. The vessels are both inspiring on an individual level and in mass. I think that material transformation is something that I always strive for in work.
Also, in Lauren Manoogian’s Spring/Summer 2019 presentation, we saw not only a varied cast of women but also men. How do you feel beauty standards are changing and how do you expect to contribute to this open conversation?
I think that our casting is very intuitive and that is how I see things evolving. We cast people based a lot on personality, their presence, whatever is unique about them; we don’t have a standard. Additionally, we are a small company doing somewhat unconventional presentations or location shoots, so oftentimes, working with the agencies, particularly during fashion week, is challenging. To stay inspired and positive, a lot of our casting relies on the support of friends and acquaintances, word of mouth, which I think adds to the depth, sincerity and organic groupings.
“[George Nakashima] He was responsible for catalysing the American craft movement in the 1940s, and his striking, organic furniture has long served as inspiration for a multitude of artists and designers such as Manoogian. She brought her Fall 2019 collection to the Nakashima Foundation for Peace in New Hope, Pennsylvania, and photographed the garments in and around the grounds of the space (…) Manoogian’s clothes looked more than at home – they belonged there”, wrote Brooke Bobb at Vogue. Can you tell us a little bit more about what Nakashima means to you and to your work?
I had visited the Nakashima property many times over the years and had always drawn inspiration from not only the objects and architectural environment they have created, but also their working production process, philosophy, the family and its continuity over time. We began talking to them about the idea a few years ago, but something was sparked when designing the Fall/Winter 2019 collection and we knew at this moment, it would be the time to do it.
This collection was really based around many undyed yarns and I am very inspired by the use of natural materials and how he lets the materials be as they are in the final pieces. His pieces are very modern but also speak to the natural materials and let’s nature have a say in the final piece. I was so honoured by the opportunity to work with the Nakashima Foundation.
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